吊杆Pennix小. 写一首流行歌曲花了一个多月, the final project in his Theory of Tonal Music I course. 所有照片:Nick Dentamaro/腾讯五分彩官网

日期 2021年12月14日
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In music theory class, students learn another kind of storytelling

Eric Nathan’s Theory of Tonal Music I course teaches students the mechanics of music — then calls on them to write their own pop songs.

普罗维登斯,R.I. [腾讯五分彩官网] — When he sat down to write a pop song early in the Fall 2021 semester, 吊杆Pennix小. followed his own golden rule: Start with the ending.

“当我讲故事的时候, 我工作落后,”Pennix说, who is wrapping up his first semester at 腾讯五分彩官网 this month. 如果你知道你想要的故事结局, it helps you think about the journey you’ll have to take to get there.”

That self-taught rule has long served Pennix well. 作为格兰杰高中的一名学生, 印第安纳州, he was able to finish 和 publish his own five-part stop-motion animated series because he had the conclusion in mind from the outset. And when he thought about life after high school, he ultimately chose to attend Brown by visualizing his end goal: a college education that afforded him the freedom to explore his many 和 varied interests, 从音乐到写作再到电影等等. 

Pennix 写一首流行歌曲花了一个多月, the final project in his Theory of Tonal Music I course. 但这个过程感觉是可控的, 他说, 因为他从大开始, 全面, 最后合唱.

“My chorus is the point in the song where the narrator is finally free, 然后他们就放手了,”Pennix说. “They’re full of confidence 和 attitude — kind of like ‘Captain America’ in that scene where Agent Carter says to him, ‘Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, 看着他们的眼睛, 并说“不, 你移动.’ So now, when I think about writing the verses, I can ask myself: How did the narrator get here? Who were they before, 和 what caused them to change?”

故事通过歌声

周二,12月. 7, Pennix shared a sketch of his untitled pop song with Nathan 和 classmates in Grant Recital Hall.

Pennix said he aspires to a career that involves storytelling — so he enrolled in Theory of Tonal Music I, 主讲教授:音乐副教授 作曲家 Eric Nathan, to learn how to tell a story through music. Throughout the semester, he 和 his classmates engaged in intensive study of music’s building blocks. By analyzing music composed by artists across several centuries, 从约翰·塞巴斯蒂安·巴赫到比莉·艾利什, they learned how certain chords can communicate particular emotions, how chord progressions can build 和 release tension, 和单词, rhythms 和 notes can work together to set a scene.

“It’s a window into how you can analyze a piece of music in a similar way to how literature students might analyze a poem,”内森说, who has taught the course many times over the last six years. “You can pick apart individual chords 和 passages, 研究它们的含义, compare them to similar chords 和 passages written by other musicians.”

从巴赫到披头士再回来

Just as literature students have often turned to William Shakespeare or Jane Austen for guidance on how to craft a traditional story arc, 内森说, music theory courses have typically begun with the analysis of 17th- 和 18th-century music by European 作曲家s such as Bach 和 Mozart, whose influence can still be heard in most Western popular music today. (事实上, a famous chord series dubbed the “two-five-one progression” can be heard in everything from Bach’s Br和enburg Concertos to the jazz st和ard “Satin Doll” to the Beatles’ “If I Fell.”) 

“Some of the concepts introduced by these European 作曲家s are still applicable to music we hear today — like the concept of dissonance 和 resolution, where there’s a sense of tension that’s then released,”内森说. “But some popular music breaks from tradition, 当它发生的时候, it can subvert expectations in a wonderful way.”

这就是为什么, 在内森的理论课上, students learn how to analyze not only the greatest music from the 17th 和 18th centuries but also the most popular music from today. 在10月初, he asked students to break down the chord progressions in Olivia Rodrigo’s recent hit “Driver’s License.两周后, students were analyzing chord structures in an aria by Hortense de Beauharnais, a French queen consort who was writing music at the same time as Ludwig van Beethoven 和 Joseph Haydn. 

内森说 he wanted to challenge students to write a pop song so they felt freedom to employ or disregard musical conventions as they saw fit — something they may have felt less free to do with a classical composition.

“I think it’s important to use the knowledge you’ve gained to compose in a different way,”他说. “Much of the original music out there works within a particular tradition but adds just enough of a unique voice 和 a unique world to set it apart. I think it’s fun to ask students to balance the conventional 和 the new the same way today’s pop artists do.”

Pennix同意. As he built a melody for his two verses, he found ways to subtly subvert expectations. Most songs start with lower notes, he explained, 和 build upward toward an exciting chorus. But he decided his verses would start with a high note, which would help communicate his protagonist’s unwavering confidence. 在合唱前制造紧张气氛, he introduced a tritone — a musical interval that sounds unsettling 和 brash.

“I think it’s really helpful to know the basics, 因为一旦你把这些写下来, 你可以开始打破规则,”他说. 

拥抱一个挑战

内森说 it’s safe to assume that most college students who take intensive music theory courses such as these are aspiring professional musicians. 但布朗, the dozens of students enrolled this fall represent a diverse array of backgrounds 和 concentrations — a reflection of Brown students’ curiosity 和 drive to challenge themselves.

“这是一门入门课程, but it’s also very rigorous: There’s a lab component that requires keyboard skills, 唱歌和耳朵训练,”内森说. “This course isn’t just a place where you learn to recognize tension 和 release, where you underst和 how pieces of music fulfill expectations 和 deliver surprises. It’s also a place where you have to explore those concepts on your own, on an empty page.”

Some who come from outside the music concentration, such as senior computer science concentrator Kshitij Sachan, 曾经融入音乐世界吗. 在高中的时候, Sachan说, he had seriously considered attending a music conservatory for flute performance. 相反,他选择了腾讯五分彩官网,在那里 开放课程 afforded him the opportunity to explore a wide range of interests — including music.

The more I can underst和 music, the better writer I can become... If I’m able to learn how to create emotion with words, 电影和音乐, I can become a better storyteller all around.

吊杆Pennix小. 2025级
 
吊杆Pennix小. 拿着小号大笑

Sachan说 that a semester of analyzing music 和 composing his own song has opened his eyes to concepts he only hazily understood as a younger musician.

“I organized a pop b和 in high school with my friends, 和 now I laugh at how little we knew when trying to arrange pieces,”Sachan说. “Now I can do mini jam sessions with my housemates 和 underst和 what’s going on behind the scenes musically.”

Sachan说 he was still tinkering with his song, even days after turning it in to Nathan. He was working with roommates to add percussion 和 lyrics in GarageB和. He realized that the course hadn’t just taught him how to write a song, but also empowered him to become a musician again. Once trapped by the idea that ab和oning a professional performing career meant he couldn’t return to music, Sachan is now considering joining an amateur orchestra when he graduates. 

“It felt like the only way I could be involved in music was to get really good at flute, 如果我做不到, 那时我的生活中就没有音乐的空间了,”他说. “Now I’m more actively trying to enjoy music with where I’m at, instead of feeling like I’m not good enough to belong in the music community. It’s so fun starting from scratch in something with no expectations.”

Pennix, who grew up playing trumpet but never took any formal music theory classes before September, 我也有同感. He was grateful that Nathan began the semester with a review of chords, scales 和 intervals — 和 that the rest of the semester challenged him to underst和 the intricacies of emotion in music.

“The more I can underst和 music, the better writer I can become,”他说. “对我来说, 电影, 音乐和写作是密不可分的, because what they all have in common is emotion. If I’m able to learn how to create emotion with words, 电影 music, I can become a better storyteller all around.”